Monday, May 5, 2008

Palm—Always Dying, Never Dead

It seems that every time I look on the Internet, I see someone asking "is Palm dead?" And the answer from disgruntled Palm PDA and smartphone users is usually a mixture of bitter agreement, hand wringing, and denial. I try to take these comments with a grain of salt. Palm has been "dying" for most of its more than decade-long existence. I seem to recall the first "Palm is dead" posts appearing on Usenet almost as soon as Microsoft introduced Windows CE in order to create devices which would compete with PalmOS PDAs—that didn't happen. Searching through Google's Usenet archive, for the words "palm dead" the oldest thread on the subject of Palm's imminent death is dated May 27, 2001. That was seven years ago and Palm still hasn't died yet.

A lot of this is the natural Internet bitching and moaning that has always dominated Internet discussion. Part of it is that Palm has been legitimately in trouble several times over the years since they went public at the height of the dotcom era. But I think that a lot of it has been Palm's own fault. Palm has always been a very secretive company and yet it also makes a lot of clumsy attempts to reach out to its users. A good example of these problems is the Palm Foleo fiasco. For years Palm had hinted at the existence of a new class of mobile devices that they wanted to sell. Palm's founder Jeff Hawkins dropped tantalizing hints for almost two years. When the Foleo was finally near completion they hyped the device to jaded users who were skeptical of its modest specs and high price. And then, they abruptly decided that the device was flawed and canceled its release. And as a final insult, several rival companies quickly released similar products which sold very well. I can't help but think that a disaster like this one could have been avoided if Palm had communicated earlier and more effectively with its users.

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